Health, India, Uncategorized, Vipassana, Yoga

10 Lessons I learned on my First Vipassana Meditation Retreat

vipassana meditation

A few years back, when I was just starting to get serious about my digital marketing business, I began a serious pursuit of personal development. Having spent the last several years living ‘da life’, late nights, over-indulging in drink and other nocturnal substances, and generally leading a life of debauchery, I began to pursue a healthy body and mind with the same diligence and single-mindedness that I’d pursued everything else that I’d ever valued in life. Exercise and healthy nutritious foods were no-brainers to strengthen the body, but how would I tone and re-invigorate my brain? Meditation seemed like the perfect option.

 

I didn’t know how to meditate. And I wasn’t of those Indian-garb wearing, all-loving spiritual yahoos… But it made sense to me that meditation would exercise my mind in the same way physical exercises strengthened the body. So I did what I usually do when ignorance prevails – I turned to a book. I wandered into a second-hand bookstore in Toronto, and found a dog-eared book on Vipassana Meditation written by a guru of some acclaim; I studied the book cover-to-cover and set out on a ten-day self-directed meditation retreat, with the intention of exercising my brain back to its former glory. Below are the top 10 things that I learned on my own self-guided Vipassana Meditation course.

 

  1. Meditation is hard work: Although it would seem upon observation that Meditation is a rather effortless acivity, with people sitting passively cross-legged on the floor, eyes closed, and breathing – not a lot sweat accumulation unless one is meditating in the heat of India – in reality meditation is hard work.  Meditation requires much effort (‘Right Effort’ it is called, in the philosophical writings about Vipassana Meditation). When one is training diligently in a Vipassana meditation practice, they are working intensely within. Training the brain to focus is HARD work.  And extremely rewarding.

     

  2. Good Posture really Matters: If you’re just sitting down to meditate for 10 or 15 minutes, your posture doesn’t matter too much. But just try extending that meditation session to an hour, several times per day (on a meditation retreat you may sit up to 10 hours per day), and you find out just how painful the simple task of sitting can become. You have to train your body to sit for these extended periods comfortably – there is nothing worse than being trapped in excruciating pain in the midst of a session, once you’ve already established you’re unwavering intention not to move.  You will get a glimpse of what true hell on earth really is. But knowing that this pain exists, and that it can be overcome with time and training, makes it much easier to withstand it.

     

  3. My Mind is Truly Nuts: Through the practice of meditation, we find ourselves sitting back and simply witnessing our thoughts for the first time in our lives. This may be a very disconcerting activity when you recognize what garbage your mind is frequently preoccupied by… tv shows, innocuous songs, trifling gossip are all among the wasteful nuggets that float across the landscape of our brains. Through the practice of meditation, it quickly becomes clear how much of our most valuable commodity – Time – we are wasting fixating on useless trivial information. The practice of meditation trains the brain to focus, and to become less distracted on time-wasting thought – this enables us to free our minds so that they can become more cnsistently engaged in activities that truly service our soul.  In our society, we have been conditioned to believe that our thoughts are important, sometimes even warranting psychological exploration. Through meditation we learn that our thoughts are not even us, and that the majority of these thoughts should be ignored and afforded no emotinal weight, so that our brain is free to focus on activities that best support our own personal developments.

     

  4. I Like Silence: During my 10-day Vipassana Meditation retreat, I had to remain completely silent. That means no talking, texting or even eye-contact/communication with others was permitted in my program (it was actually pretty easy, since I set up my retreat for a party of one (me!) and didn’t make contact was any human or animal for the entire 10-day duration). I must admit, I was a bit surprised by how little I missed human contact, but perhaps as I was getting to know my most inner workings for the first time in my life, I may have been a tad preoccupied.

     

  5. I am Not Who I thought I Was: The intense practice of Vipassana allows one to peer below all the day-to-day bull that usually consumes our minds, And what we start to find is that there is a purity of spirit that exists beneath the garbage that’s been piled upon us by the influences of life activities and ignorant people. And we learn that the spirit beneath the crap is something we can actually trust. So it makes sense that the more frequently and directly we can learn to gain access to this purity of spirit within, the better we increase our chances of making high value choices going forward.

     

  6. Everything is Impermanent: During the course of the 10-day retreat, as you become enmeshed in painful physical and emotional sensations over and over again, you start to notice that these sensations arise and pass away many times; it becomes obvious that all sensations, whether positive or negative, are temporary. Translation – nothing lasts forever. This realization can have profound impact on the way you live your life as it’s a constant reminder that when faced with difficult tasks, nothing lasts forever.

     

  7. I am the Cause of My Own Suffering: Through my 10-day Vipassana Meditation practice it become clear that there was only one actual culprit to blame for my own suffering, In the past I used to look outside of myself to find the source of my pain – whether I thought some other person had slighted me, or whether I thought I’d been treated unfairly by circumstances, I now understood at an experiential level that my suffering is always the result of my reaction to an event, rather than the event itself.

     

  8. Equanimity is King: In Vipassana Meditation we learn that it is our attachment/addiction to Craving and Aversion that create our pain and suffering. When our mind yearns for something, or when our mind fears or abhors something, it will cause us great suffering. The main key is that we live must with joy in the moment, regardless our current circumstances – this frees us to pursue whatever step is required in our life-development plan, without being swayed by feckle emotions, yearnings, cravings or fears. We must be able to find joy always and know that that ability resides within us – a balanced mind which acts consistently with equanimity is our path to health, wellness and happiness.

     

  9. 4am is Good: Early morning rising is good for the soul. Initially, a meditation schedule that involves waking at 4am with an hour of sitting before a 6am breakfast might be off-putting for some people, but after a few days, I found myself enjoying the schedule. Waking so early really connected me to my more balanced animal nature, which innately seems to relish a schedule more in harmony with the sun cycle.

     

  10. Energy is Everything: Through the practice of Vipassana Meditation I experienced the reality that everything that exists, including our thoughts, are vibrational energy. And once we know this truth at a cellular level, we understand how connected everything is and how the arbitrary boundaries that exist between people and things aren’t real (not ‘real’ in the way we’ve been perceiving them…). We understand that our thoughts have as much power on the direction of our lives, as our words. And we become truly accountable to ourselves and our own highest good.

 

My 10-day Vipassana Meditation retreat changed me in more ways than I anticipated. By gaining a greater understanding about myself and my own motivations, it actually made me a better sales person and more focused and effective digital marketing professional. I find I connect better and faster with my clients, and perhaps because of my enhanced focus, I’m more able to identify their business needs and objectives more quickly. I also seem to have developed amazing self-discipline and the ability to get things done as a result of my Vipassana Meditation practice.  Vipassana Meditation gives a person direct knowledge of things as they really are, without prejudice and without illusion. And the benefits of this enhanced clarity must be experienced to be truly understood. If you’re the type of person who is committed to personal growth and self-actualization, I strongly suggest you check out Vipassana Meditation and consider attending a 10-day retreat for yourself.

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Digital Marketing, Health, India, Uncategorized, Vipassana, Yoga

10 Things I Wish Someone Told Me BEFORE I studied Yoga at an Ashram in India

A year ago I decided to ramp up my yoga practice – I’d been studying meditation and yoga for a few years, and was starting to feel pretty darn yogic every time I visited the studio, so a trip to an Indian Ashram seemed like the next logical step in my journey! Having successfully survived India with many stories of life-changing adventures, I’d like to share with you the top ten things I wish someone would have told me before I left on my trip…

Ashram Yoga

1. The Daily Routine

Know that there will be a daily routine and that you will have to stick to it. You will, most likely, have to get up early in the morning, (sometimes as early as 4am!) and you will have to turn your lights off at a set bedtime. There will also be specific mealtimes and a schedule for lectures/workshops. If you have problems sticking to a disciplined routine, you may find the ashram schedule to be challenging.

2. Traveling Solo

For those people that don’t like to travel alone, Yoga retreats offer a great solution because there’s always a great group of like-minded people at the ashram. When you make a Yoga Retreat part of your travel plans, it enables you to enjoy the best of both worlds – time with others and time exploring your new surroundings alone. Traveling with friends and family is great, but you often find more adventures when you choose the solo option.

3. Pack “emergency snacks” such as nuts and dried fruits.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably soon be sick of eating Indian food all day, every day. Many students at the ashram found that digging into familiar foods on occasion gave their taste buds and body a break from digesting the heavily spiced Indian food.

4. Get your Gut ready months in advance

The stereotype about the food in India is true, with many Yogis suffering bouts of “Delhi Belly” – fever, chills, diarrhea, vomit and fatigue that lasts for days. This is definitely not the way you want to spend a yoga retreat. Strengthen your gut in whatever way you’re able. In the months leading up to your trip take daily probiotics, drink Kombucha, and eat cultured yogurts.

5. Pack Your Painkillers

Pharmacys in Rishikesh are Ayurvedic, which means that there is no western medicine. If you are a person who uses Ibuprofen to address mild pain, you will be thankful that you brought your supply from home.

6. Tame Your Cravings

Rishikesh is a vegetarian, booze-free town. When I went to Rishikish, I’d already been vegetarian for many years, but some of my classmates weren’t prepared for the dramatic dietary changes. When people are adjusting to new schedules and new challenges, adding the adjustment to a new diet is an additional unnecessary stress. If meat, eggs, or alcohol are a big part of your diet, it would be wise to gradually reduce these from your diet leading up to the trip.

7. Bring your own yoga mat from home

To put it bluntly, most of the yoga mats you’ll find in the ashrams for students to use have seen much better days; if you’re concerned about hygiene, you’ll not want to use one of the free mats. If you care about the quality of mat you use, bring your own from home. But if you just want something to last for your trip – you can buy cheap yoga mats in town, which you can donate to the ashram when you leave.

8. Bring Your Earplugs

India is loud. Whether it’s the incessant horn-beeping or the cows or the monkeys. India is loud. You won’t regret bringing your earplugs when you’re trying to get that shuteye before your 4am wake-up call! Sleep is critical when you’re on a Yoga retreat so I strongly encourage you to bring your earplugs.

9. Pack Light

Yoga retreats are generally very casual. In general, you’ll spend most your time in comfortable yoga style clothes. You’ll want to bring something basic to wear for the occasional dinner or evening out, but trust me – the simpler the better. Clothes are cheap in India, so leave space in your luggage to bring some Indian fashion home. Plan to buy your ‘India clothes’ in India!

10. Caution: Cows

Cows are considered sacred in India and they roam the streets. Often these animals elicit our pity as their bony frames are in such obvious need of food. Do be cautious though – I almost started a couple cattle stampedes through the streets of Rishikesh when attempting to feed some of my bovine friends.

Cows In India

11. (BONUS) Caution: Monkeys

Those adorable monkeys are everywhere in Rishikesh – but cuteness is merely a cover for their nefarious motives. While in Rishikesh, tourists are reminded to keep their purses and bags tight to their bodies or the monkeys will literally grab the items out of people’s hands. I witnessed one mom and her young daughter have their lunches swiped right in front of me. Bad monkeys.

Most important when planning a trip to a Yoga Ashram in Rishikesh is that you bring your sense of adventure. On my trip to India, I tried to cultivate a ‘go with the flow’ mentality.  India is a crazy country and can be a tremendous shock for someone traveling from North America. When you bring a relaxed and flexible attitude, you will be in the right frame of mind and prepared for all the unexpected challenges that India presents.